Professional photographer Sara Geidlinger and writer Marshall Ward first met in a public green space in Waterloo about ten years ago. When they decided to record a podcast in the summer of 2019, they dubbed it Bonn Park after that same neighbourhood hangout spot. Since officially launching in January 2020, the show has become a meeting place of its own for its hosts and a fascinatingly diverse lineup of local guests.
“We weren’t really sure what it was [right away],” Geidlinger explained, “We just knew we wanted to create and we wanted to talk. Marshall and I love to talk to people.” Geidlinger explained how the creative spark of Bonn Park came from its hosts’ deep fascination with the people around them.
“[The podcast] was a creative outlet that both Marshall and I desperately needed. We are absolutely amazed by our neighbours, the community … making an episode and digging deep into who these people are, how they got here, their hopes, dreams and fears and all the guts of messy human life stuff … it kind of happens naturally.”
The show’s weekly release schedule has remained consistent, without being hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and its social distancing requirements.
“We accidentally had a cache of episodes when COVID-19 hit,” Geidlinger said. “We already had months [worth] in the can before we started releasing them. When [the pandemic] hit, we were able to keep rolling with that schedule.”
The frequency of their interview sessions has allowed Geidlinger and Ward to feature guests with unique vocations or life experiences alongside the expected roster of local artists, musicians and tastemakers. Such guests have included Waterloo Region waste management coordinator Kathleen Barsoum, high school teacher and renowned Holocaust educator Jeff Chard, and Christa Wise, a University of Guelph student living with Lyme disease.
From the start, Geidlinger and Ward always sought to include guests who lived and worked outside the world of traditional media coverage. When asked about how celebrities generally make for weak interview subjects, on account of being physically and mentally worn down by the press circuit, Ward concurred: “It’s the people who don’t get as many [media] opportunities who give incredible interviews.”
The hosts have kept the Bonn Park guest list entirely local so far, a rule they intend to keep, Geidlinger said.
“People have asked me if we think we’re going to run out of people to talk to in the region, and my answer is flat-out no. No way. Not a chance.”
In any case, focusing exclusively on local stories has provided Geidlinger and Ward with an eye-opening view of the place they’ve both called home for a long time.
“We learned through our podcast, [interviewing journalist Anthony Reinhart in Episode #54] that there was a serial killer in Waterloo, in the 1960s,” Ward said.
“I thought I had a good handle on the history of this region, even the darker corners … but I’d never heard about this. So many people we knew had no idea. The feedback we received was unlike any other [episode] we’ve done.”
Both of Bonn Park’s hosts are quick to speak highly of each other’s strengths and contributions. Certainly, their awareness of those strengths has played no small part in their consistent ability to explore a subject in depth without becoming lost.
“Marshall’s a pro, he’s been a writer for years, and years. He knows how to carry an interview very professionally. He really saves us sometimes when I’m really going down a path to get to a point about somebody’s life. He’s the one that brings us back to reality,” Geidlinger said.
“Sara carries a huge bulk of the technological part of it, putting the show together and editing it. I would say it’s much more time-consuming for her when it comes to getting it ready every Wednesday,” Ward said.
Both hosts are intrigued by the possibility that, in a COVID-19-free near-future, they could return the Bonn Park show to its namesake green space with a curated event of sorts, perhaps featuring some of the musicians, artists and speakers who have appeared on the show.
“We have this dream of getting our sponsors to supply food, and having a street festival by the park,” Geidlinger said.
“I’ve had actual, real dreams about that,” Ward concurred.